December 21 1815: Three Wordsworth Poems


On December 21 1815,  William Wordsworth writes to the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon, and encloses three sonnets that have been composed, at various times, since October. In 1842, Haydon will paint the portrait of Wordsworth, which can be found above.  It must be said that receiving three sonnets from Wordsworth must rank pretty high as one of the best poetical Christmas gifts of all time.  

Rydal Mount, near Ambleside, December 21, 1815.

. . . Now for the poems, which are sonnets: one composed the evening I received your letter; the other the next day; and the third the day following. I shall not transcribe them in the order in which they were written, but inversely.

The last you will find was occasioned, I might say inspired, by your last letter, if there be any inspiration in it; the second records a feeling excited in me by the object it describes in the month of October last; and the first by a still earlier sensation, which the revolution of the year impressed me with last autumn . . .


WHILE not a leaf seems faded; while the fields,
With ripening harvest prodigally fair,
In brightest sunshine bask; this nipping air,
Sent from some distant clime where Winter wields
His icy scimitar, a foretaste yields
Of bitter change, and bids the flowers beware;
And whispers to the silent birds, ‘Prepare
Against the threatening foe your trustiest shields.’
For me, who under kindlier laws belong
To Nature’s tuneful quire, this rustling dry
Through leaves yet green, and yon crystalline sky,
Announce a season potent to renew,
‘Mid frost and snow, the instinctive joys of song,
And nobler cares than listless summer knew.


How clear, how keen, how marvellously bright
The effluence from yon distant mountain’s head,
Which, strewn with snow smooth as the sky can shed,
Shines like another sun—on mortal sight
Uprisen, as if to check approaching Night,
And all her twinkling stars. Who now would tread,
If so he might, yon mountain’s glittering head—
Terrestrial, but a surface, by the flight
Of sad mortality’s earth-sullying wing,
Unswept, unstained? Nor shall the aerial Powers
Dissolve that beauty, destined to endure,
White, radiant, spotless, exquisitely pure,
Through all vicissitudes, till genial Spring
Has filled the laughing vales with welcome flowers.


High is our calling, Friend!—Creative Art
(Whether the instrument of words she use,
Or pencil pregnant with ethereal hues),
Demands the service of a mind and heart,
Though sensitive, yet, in their weakest part,
Heroically fashioned—to infuse
Faith in the whispers of the lonely Muse,
While the whole world seems adverse to desert.
And, oh! when Nature sinks, as oft she may,
Through long-lived pressure of obscure distress,
Still to be strenuous for the bright reward,
And in the soul admit of no decay,
Brook no continuance of weak-mindedness—
Great is the glory, for the strife is hard!

With high respect, I am, my dear sir, most faithfully yours, William Wordsworth.

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